Many familiar elements, but the characterization is strong in this adventure tale.

THE CAMELOT PUZZLE

BOOK ONE OF THE MARBLES SAGA

To save her father, a girl journeys with her friends to find a magical relic in Peaslee’s debut middle-grade fantasy series starter.

In Ferry Village, Maine, sixth-grader Josephine “JoJo” Mallory’s life is pretty ordinary—until the morning that she meets a leprechaun. He informs her that her father is being held in the prison fortress Shadowrock (formerly known as “Camelot”) by the evil sorcerer Pewtris Grimm’s three witch-daughters. They mean to torture him to find the location of a prized object, the Chrimeus, “Merlin’s most powerful magical legacy.” JoJo must travel through an underground portal to Erristan, where Shadowrock is, to locate the Chrimeus and trade it for her dad’s life. Luckily, she has her two best friends to help: Marcella “Marcy” DiPietro is awkward, physically and socially, but is the smartest kid in sixth grade, and Johnny Dowling—called “Trip” to commemorate his scoring a triple hat-trick (nine goals) in one hockey game—is the school’s star athlete. In Erristan, the three learn that Grimm has almost rid the land of Free Knights, the successors to the Knights of the Round Table who’ve guarded the Chrimeus since the fall of Camelot a thousand years ago. The magical object, one of five, is crucial to restoring the Free Knights to fight Grimm. With help from members of the local resistance, the youngsters face a series of challenges, and JoJo learns startling truths. Although the portal-quest format is all too standard in YA fantasy adventure, Peaslee does brings a few unusual changes to the Arthurian legend and shows some invention with his magical creatures, such as talking spiders and “Fast Turtles,” which characters use for transportation. The strongest feature of the book, though, is how Trip and Marcy, two very different people, learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and sympathize with their respective weaknesses. JoJo’s ability to maintain close friendships with both of them suggests her own nascent leadership ability, setting the stage for her to take on greater responsibilities in future volumes of this series.

Many familiar elements, but the characterization is strong in this adventure tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5229-6191-8

Page Count: 356

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2017

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Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone.

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THE CHRISTMAS PIG

A 7-year-old descends into the Land of the Lost in search of his beloved comfort object.

Jack has loved Dur Pig long enough to wear the beanbag toy into tattered shapelessness—which is why, when his angry older stepsister chucks it out the car window on Christmas Eve, he not only throws a titanic tantrum and viciously rejects the titular replacement pig, but resolves to sneak out to find DP. To his amazement, the Christmas Pig offers to guide him to the place where all lost Things go. Whiffs of childhood classics, assembled with admirable professionalism into a jolly adventure story that plays all the right chords, hang about this tale of loss and love. Along with family drama, Rowling stirs in fantasy, allegory, and generous measures of social and political commentary. Pursued by the Land’s cruel and monstrous Loser, Jack and the Christmas Pig pass through territories from the Wastes of the Unlamented, where booger-throwing Bad Habits roam, to the luxurious City of the Missed for encounters with Hope, Happiness, and Power (a choleric king who rejects a vote that doesn’t go his way). A joyful reunion on the Island of the Beloved turns poignant, but Christmas Eve being “a night for miracles and lost causes,” perhaps there’s still a chance (with a little help from Santa) for everything to come right? In both the narrative and Field’s accomplished, soft-focus illustrations, the cast presents White.

Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-79023-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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